Grand Rapids Landlords to Pay $550,000 and Terminate Manager’s Responsibilities to Settle Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Filed by Justice Department
The Justice Department announced today that the owners and operators of the Alger Meadows Apartments in Grand Rapids, Michigan, have agreed to pay $550,000 in damages and civil penalties and to terminate property manager Dale VanderVennen’s role in managing the complex to settle a lawsuit alleging that VanderVennen sexually harassed female tenants in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
The department’s complaint, filed in September 2013, alleged that Dale VanderVennen, the manager of 16 apartment buildings known as Alger Meadow Apartments, sexually harassed female tenants at the complex in violation of the FHA. The lawsuit alleged that VanderVennen made unwelcome sexual comments and sexual advances to female tenants, touched himself in a sexual manner in front of female tenants, entered their homes without notice or permission, conditioned housing benefits on tenants engaging in sexual acts and took adverse action against tenants who refused his advances. The lawsuit also included the owners of the complex and alleged that they were liable for VanderVennen’s actions. The department began its investigation after the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids brought complaints about VanderVennen’s conduct to the department’s attention.
The settlement, which was approved today by Judge Robert J. Jonker, requires the defendants to pay $510,000 to victims of VanderVennen’s sexual harassment and $40,000 to the United States The $510,000 will be used to pay damages to thirteen women who have already been identified and to any additional victims who are identified through the process established in the settlement agreement. Persons who believe they were subjected to sexual harassment by VanderVennen should contact the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, option 5, or e-mail the Justice Department at email@example.com .
“The magnitude of this settlement reflects the seriousness of the defendant’s conduct,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Molly Moran for the Civil Rights Division. “No woman or her family should have to endure sexual harassment to keep the keys to their home.”
“The U.S. Department of Justice takes the American civil rights laws very seriously,” said U.S. Attorney Patrick A. Miles Jr. for the Western District of Michigan. “We fight to protect a variety of rights, including the right to housing without being discriminated against or sexually harassed. My office is pleased by this settlement.”
The consent decree also prohibits all of the defendants from engaging in discrimination, and it requires that the owners create non-discrimination policies for their properties and participate in fair housing training to prevent such conduct in the future. It also bars VanderVennen from personally participating in the management or operation of residential rental properties in the future and requires him to retain an independent manager to manage any rental properties he may later own. In addition to VanderVennen, the defendants include four closely held companies that own and operate Alger Meadows. Those companies are Jack and Linda Properties LLC, DDJ Rental Real Estate LLC, Calcutta Associates LLC and LLJ LLC, all of which are affiliated with Jack VanderVennen.
Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Department of Justice. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt . Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or through its website at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp .